Democrats Retreat on Crime and Police Reform
That was then. Now, an uptick in homicides across the country is shaking up those gains, representing a setback for the left in the ongoing war between the centrist and progressive wings of the Democratic Party.
“Without a doubt there has been a backlash,” said Maurice Mitchell, leader of the Movement for Black Lives coalition and national director of the left-wing group Working Families Party. “Historically, whenever there have been major social movements, at some point you experience some form of backlash. And we’re in the middle of that.
Signs of the Democratic Party’s evolution on crime are everywhere — and go beyond the defeats suffered by the “defund the police” movement in Minneapolis and elsewhere last year. As the midterm elections resume, Democrats are demanding more funding for police and trying to co-opt traditionally Republican talking points on crime.
“A lot of elected officials are really running away from this mandate,” said Leili Fatehi, a Minneapolis Democratic strategist who led the campaign against a failed measure to overhaul the city’s police department last fall.
In Philadelphia, where Floyd’s killing prompted the city council two years ago to reject Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney’s request for a $19 million increase in police spending, top lawmakers are asking for millions of dollars this year. more for the cops. This is in addition to the $24 million increase in the police budget that Kenney has already proposed.
In New York, Eric Adams, the former NYPD captain and pro-police Democratic mayor, is cleaning up homeless camps, drawing comparisons to the city’s former Republican mayor, Rudy Giuliani. New York State Democrats also recently agreed to a deal to reverse bail reform after passing it just a few years ago, when it was hailed as a national success in the fight against mass incarceration.
In Nevada, the Democratic senator. Catherine Cortez Mastoformer state attorney general and prime target of Republicans seeking to overthrow the Senate, is remind voters she has “worked closely with law enforcement” and “supports our police.”
Washington, DC, where the City Council slashed the police budget in 2020 over objections from Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser, is the scene of one of the most egregious reversals: Bowser is offering to hire hundreds more cops , and now most board members said they were probably on board.
Cherelle Parker, a Philadelphia City Councilwoman, Democrat and potential 2023 mayoral candidate, said her constituents are calling for more police resources amid an increase in murders. She recently wrote an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer advocating for 300 more community police officers.
“There is a demand, if you listen to people,” she said. “They want us to solve this seemingly intractable problem, and they want to do it with a sense of urgency.”
She added that many people in the city are having to “determine whether or not they will allow their children or grandchildren to walk to the corner store.”
Even left-leaning Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner — a leading figure in the criminal justice reform movement — attended a press conference hosted by Parker about his plan, though his spokesman said that he “has always called for a modern and effective approach to policing that uses more targeted resources for law enforcement” and “[a]Any financing of public charges must be accompanied by responsibility.
In Los Angeles, a strongly Democratic city where leaders misappropriated police department funding after Floyd’s murder, Democratic mayoral candidates debate last month only disagreeing over who would do the most to enhance public safety.
Rick Caruso, the billionaire real estate developer who called to add 1,500 police at the Los Angeles Police Department and who is now run shoulder to shoulder with the rep. Karen Basssaid, “I… stand with our president, Joe Biden, who said, ‘Let’s defund the police. “”
Joe Buscaino, a current council member, said, “One of my first actions as mayor will be to pay back $150 million to the LAPD.” Citing “the mayhem and mayhem” in Los Angeles, the former police officer said, “I’m the only candidate on this scene wearing an LAPD badge and a bulletproof vest.”
The adoption of stronger stances on law and order comes after a nationwide murder spike in recent years, including in some of the the biggest, most democratic cities. the The change in tone also comes ahead of Republican attacks on “police defunding” in this year’s midterm elections. After Democrats underperformed expectations in the 2020 House races, many party members blamed GOP broadsides.
“As dumb as we are, we listen to the base. The base gave it to us left and right: ‘What do you mean, cut the police?’ said former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who served two terms as mayor of Philadelphia. “Go to North Philadelphia, where 99% of the residents are African American, and ask them what they think about defunding the police. You wouldn’t find 10 people in favor.
The change among Democrats is in line with public polls, which appeared to crystallize last year. In June 2020, at the height of protests following the police killing of Floyd, 25% of Americans said police spending should be cut, according to a Pew Research Center poll. By October 2021 – just before the off-year elections – that number had dropped to 15%. Just 6% of adults said police spending should be cut “a lot” – the central idea of the “defund” movement. Even among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters, only a quarter said funding should be cut.
A January Fox Poll found that voters trust Republicans to handle crime compared to Democrats by a double-digit margin. In a April poll per CBS News/YouGov, only 39% of Americans supported Biden’s handling of crime.
A poll in a hard-hit city was equally striking. A January poll found that 70% of Philadelphians rated public safety as the number one issue – a jump from around 40% in 2020. The same poll showed that 69% of black residents said there were not enough police in the city, compared to 63% of Hispanics and 55% of whites. Residents who were younger, with a college degree or earning more than $100,000 a year were more likely to say Philadelphia had enough or too many cops.
Mitchell, the leader of the Movement for Black Lives, said he ‘wouldn’t go that far’ when asked if he expected a return to tough-on-crime politics the way of 1990s among Democrats. But, he said, “the simple act of using police overfunding and a police-only response to these very complicated public safety issues robs the discourse and robs communities of real solutions.”
In a NBC News poll from last month73% of voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who supports defunding police, while the House Democrats’ campaign arm, sounding the alarm over the “defund” tag in its own research earlier this year urged Democrats to reiterate their support for the police.
Some liberal strategists fear it may be too late as Republicans continue to hammer Democrats on the issue — one of many culture war concerns that figure prominently in the midterms.
In Seattle, where local Democrats linked to the “defund” movement were reduced in last year’s municipal electionsSandeep Kaushik, a Democratic strategist, said the result was that “a lot of wind came out of their sails.”
He fears that the impression left by the movement on voters will continue, with disastrous consequences.
Voters, he said, “see images of Seattle and crime and mayhem… They hear that no one is being prosecuted anymore.”
“I’m terrified this thing is going to get Trump re-elected in 24. Forget about midterms. I’m terrified this thing will bring down Biden if he runs for president again.